Chinese officials on Wednesday nearly doubled the death toll from its newly identified strain of coronavirus, saying the outbreak has killed 17 people, up from nine they announced just hours earlier. Some 470 cases have been confirmed in China. The statement from the Hubei provincial government came amid concerns the deadly virus could spread rapidly during Lunar New Year celebrations, when hundreds of millions of people are expected to travel. A few confirmed cases have been reported outside China, including one person in the United States, but no deaths have yet been reported outside of the country. China’s Bureau of Disease Prevention and Control said the virus is “highly infectious,” but it does not appear to be as deadly as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) pandemic 17 years ago. “The virus is mainly transmitted through the respiratory tract,” Li Bin, vice minister of China’s National Health Commission, said at a Wednesday news conference of a health expert panel in Beijing. “It may mutate and there is risk of further spread.”
Local officials of Wuhan, the Chinese city considered the epicenter of the outbreak, also announced that all public transportation would shut down starting Wednesday evening—including buses, ferries, and the subway. According to CNBC, flights and trains set to depart Wuhan—a city of over 11 million people—will be temporarily canceled.